He sighed. “I’ve never told you this either,” he said to Chudi who was looking on quietly. “Most new people we’ve met don’t ask, and Bimbo is the last person to raise the topic. I’d rather not talk about it either.”
“I’m sorry,” I put in, “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, no, it’s not your fault. I’ve been praying for it and I’m glad someone is finally taking an interest in Bimbo. I’ve done my best to be there for her since it happened.”
“What happened?” Chudi asked.
“Bimbo’s chief bridesmaid and best friend died in a car accident…”
“Oh no,” I breathed, my hand moving to cover my lips.
“She was taking us to the airport for our honeymoon trip.” Tade completed.
“Were you in the car too?” Chudi asked.
“It was the three of us. Funmilayo was driving.”
My mouth dropped open as my hand fell into my lap. In the silence, my heart thudded in my chest. This sounded like something that only happened in the movies. My gaze was fixed on the tears that clouded Tade’s eyes. When they spilled over, he began to speak. The wedding day had been the best day of their lives, and the reception had continued till midnight. They had been laughing on the way to the airport, tearing apart the events and people of the day before. And no, Funmilayo had not been drunk or hung over; a sleepy tanker driver slipped into their lane, ramming their car into the ditch beside the express way.
He was in the back seat and had escaped with just a fractured arm. Bimbo was in the passenger seat and had some internal bleeding, nothing too serious. Funmilayo had taken the brunt of the collision and died within hours of arriving at the hospital. Everyone had been shocked, and a massive pall had been cast over their relationship. Months after they’d both left the hospital and Funmilayo had been buried, Bimbo had remained inconsolable. She was finally beginning to come around, but it was still touch and go, some days were better than others.
Funmilayo had been Bimbo’s childhood friend. They had grown up closer than sisters, spending time in each other’s houses and going to the same schools, all through primary school to university. Only during their youth service had they been apart, but they had visited each other regularly, and resumed the friendship when they both returned to Lagos after the mandatory one year. They had looked alike, with the same dark skin and a gap between their teeth. People had sometimes asked if they were twins. I recalled the picture I had seen on their wall, of Bimbo and the woman, smiling and happy, and then Bimbo as she was now, and I began to cry too.
After Tade left, I confessed to Chudi that I didn’t know what to do next. My need for someone to pass the time with paled in the face of Bimbo’s travails. My schemes to befriend her suddenly seemed very foolish and childish. While my fears about her sadness had been confirmed, at the same time, I knew there was no way I could hope to replace her dead best friend.
“You don’t have to replace her, just be there for Bimbo.”
So over the next few months, I tried to get closer to her, and get her to talk to me. I did not tell her about our discussion with Tade or what he had revealed to us. I introduced some of the other women in our circle to her work, spent some of my free time in her shop, coaxed her to go fabric hunting with me and we went to Balogun Market a couple of times. Sometimes Bimbo would point and start to say something, a bright look in her eyes, and then it would fade away and she would keep silent.
I was in Bimbo’s shop one day when my stomach cramped, and cramped hard. It had been doing that for a few days but I had assumed it was nothing serious. This time, it gripped the whole of my lower abdomen and kicked me in the back. I doubled up, gasping.
“Madam, madam,” one of the girls called, jerking off her padded seat.
“What is it?” Bimbo was at my side immediately.
“I don’t know,” I groaned, clutching my still cramping belly.
“Can you call your husband?”
I shook my head. From the Island, it would take Chudi at least two hours to get to Bimbo’s shop in Ikeja. “He won’t make it in time, and
I have to get to the hospital as soon as possible. My car is here, can you drive?”
Bimbo backed away and I glimpsed the fear in her eyes. I wondered if this would be her first time driving a car since the accident she and her husband had been involved in. It occurred to me then that I had never seen her drive Tade’s car.
“Please,” I moaned as another cramp followed the first. I was past caring.
Bimbo finally nodded, and two of her apprentices helped me to the car, where I sank gingerly into the passenger seat. I noticed Bimbo hesitate a couple of seconds after she sat down beside me before she took the wheel and started the car. As I opened my mouth to speak, another cramp gripped me.
“Which hospital…” Bimbo began.
“Just drive,” I muttered, breathing through my lips.
The next minutes passed in a blur. The cramps were coming in about ten minute intervals, as if I was in labor. I feared that I was about to lose my three months pregnancy. None of the following cramps were as bad as the first, but still I panted as Bimbo drove to the popular private hospital near our street which, luckily, was the one we used. At the hospital, she half-carried me into reception and harried the nurses till they called a doctor to see me immediately. I looked at her after another contraction had passed and saw the tears in her eyes.
“I called Tade, and also spoke to your husband. He said he’ll be here soon.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. “I’m sorry to have put you through so much trouble.”
To my surprise, Bimbo burst into tears. The doctor called us in before I could ask her what was wrong. It turned out I could be having a miscarriage as I had feared. The doctor was hopeful that coming to the hospital so quickly may have saved the baby, and after taking some blood for tests, recommended some days of bed rest until we were sure. I was given a bed in the female ward and in a few minutes; I was lying on it with Bimbo beside me and holding my hand.
She had quickly wiped away her tears as we went into the consulting room, but they were streaming again. She kept saying she was sorry.
“What is it, Bimbo?” I finally asked.
“I was so scared,” she cried, “I was scared I wouldn’t be able to drive the car, and I was scared you would die. I couldn’t have borne it. Not again.”
The story fell from her in torrents. She told me much more about Funmilayo, and about the accident. She had a lot of guilt about Funmilayo’s death, and believed that if she hadn’t asked her to drive them to the airport; her friend would still be alive. It was going on two years and she had never really forgiven herself. Each day she was alive felt like a betrayal; how could she go on living when Funmilayo was dead? How could she be happy, and laugh and smile, like everything was normal?
I held her hands, all words gone from my mouth. What could I say? The usual platitudes were totally inadequate. I only hoped that she would be relieved by talking about it. Her next words took me by surprise.
“I’m pregnant too.”
“Really?” She wasn’t showing as far as I could tell.
She nodded. “Four months since my last period. I haven’t told anyone yet, not even Tade.”
Before now, I would’ve been simply happy for her, but after her last words, I could see how it would be a conflict for her. I squeezed her hands tighter.
“Some days, I would be ecstatic,” she said, “and other days I would feel like a monster. I would tell myself that I didn’t deserve any happiness. But seeing your experience,” she looked directly into my eyes, “it’s become so clear to me. I can’t live half a life; I have to give it my all. What if I had forgotten how to drive, or had frozen up? You could have miscarried, or worse.”
“I’m fine,” was all I could say.
“I know, and that’s why I’m crying.” Bimbo wiped an arm under her streaming nose. “These are tears of joy and relief,” she continued,
“I now accept that Funmilayo wouldn’t have wanted me to die, or not to take joy in my life. She was the happiest person I ever knew, always laughing.” Bimbo’s gaze was lost somewhere in the past. “We were so happy. She didn’t have a steady boyfriend, but we were already planning her wedding, and how our children would get married to each other.”
Bimbo sighed and shook her head. “I know now that’ll never happen. But there’s a better way to live the life left to me. I have to be fully here for Tade, and for my baby.”
She was smiling by then, and my own lips were stretching from ear to ear. We were wrapped in each other’s arms when Chudi and Tade arrived.
I stayed in the hospital for two weeks, and Bimbo came to see me every day. My baby survived and with each day that passed, I watched Bimbo transform into a totally different person before my eyes. She was more the woman in the wedding gown than the person I had met at my son’s birthday. Without any prompting, she would tell me a little more about Funmilayo, and the many things they had done together. As we began shopping together for baby stuff, people often remarked on Bimbo’s gap teeth and her dimples.
Tade bought me a bottle of wine in thanks. I accepted it but told him I didn’t really have much to do with it. Maybe Funmilayo did.
Bimbo had a bouncing baby girl last week and yesterday, we named her Funmilayo. She’s the prettiest baby you ever saw, and I just know she’ll be great friends with my children, just as I now am with her mother.